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Twitter Adds Fact-Check Notices To Trump Tweets On Mail-In Ballots (#GotBitcoin?)

Move follows earlier appeal by widower that president’s false tweets about death of his wife be pulled down. Twitter Adds Fact-Check Notices To Trump Tweets On Mail-In Ballots (#GotBitcoin?)

Twitter Adds Fact-Check Notices To Trump Tweets On Mail-In Ballots (#GotBitcoin?)

Twitter Inc. on Tuesday for the first time applied a fact-checking notice to a tweet from President Trump, hours after the social-media company denied a widower’s request to delete the president’s posts circulating conspiracy theories about his wife’s death.

Complete List Of Trump Deleted Tweets

The twin decisions are likely to stir partisans on both sides of the political debate, with one arguing Silicon Valley should play a more active role in policing Mr. Trump’s social-media activity, while the other considers such moves akin to censorship.

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Twitter Adds Fact-Check Notices To Trump Tweets On Mail-In Ballots (#GotBitcoin?)

Twitter applied the fact-checking notices late Tuesday to two tweets from the president about the potential for fraud involving mail-in ballots. With a small label—“Get the facts about mail-in ballots”—and a link to more information, Twitter alerted its users that those claims were unsubstantiated.

The tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots,” a Twitter spokesman said.

Twitter’s move was based on a policy announced earlier this month to apply fact-checking labels about the coronavirus and other disputed issues subject to misinformation, including the election. This marked the first time Twitter has applied the fact-checking label to a message about non-Covid news.

Mr. Trump late Tuesday accused Twitter of interfering in the election. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he wrote in a tweet.

Early Wednesday, the president tweeted that Republicans felt social-media platforms were trying to “totally silence” conservatives: “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

And he again took aim at mail-in ballots, writing in a tweet: “It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots.”

Twitter staff warned Trump’s team previously that a May 20 tweet about voter fraud risked triggering the company to take action, according to a person familiar with the matter. That tweet wrongly said Michigan had sent absentee ballots to people ahead of the primaries. In fact, Michigan had sent absentee ballot applications. Mr. Trump deleted the tweet.

On Tuesday Mr. Trump revisited the voting topic, even as fresh controversy swirled over the president’s tweets falsely suggesting that former lawmaker and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had played a role in the 2001 death of a congressional aide. Twitter later said it wouldn’t take action on the posts related to Mr. Scarborough.

Twitter’s policy is to lock users’ accounts, if they violate rules against harassment or spam-like behavior unless the users delete the tweets. Last year, the company said it would begin flagging tweets by government officials and political figures who violate its rules.

Before Tuesday, Twitter had not taken any action against Mr. Trump, even though his critics have said some posts flouted the company’s policies.

In the instance of Mr. Trump’s tweets about the conspiracies surrounding the Scarborough aide’s death, a spokesman for Twitter said the messages didn’t qualify as harassment under the company’s policy because the people mentioned in the posts are public figures.

The Twitter spokeswoman said in a written statement Tuesday: “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family.”

Mika Brzezinski, the co-host and wife of Mr. Scarborough, on Tuesday expressed outrage that Twitter was choosing to respond to the mail-in ballot tweets and not those baselessly accusing her husband of murder. “Ummmmm…WOW,” she wrote, tagging Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey. “You are kidding us right?”

Timothy Klausutis, the widower of Mr. Scarborough’s former aide, had written to Mr. Dorsey last week asking him to delete the president’s tweets about his wife.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him—the memory of my dead wife—and perverted it for perceived political gain,” he wrote, according to an email first published by the New York Times.

Referring to theories that have circulated online for years, falsely suggesting Mr. Scarborough was involved in the death, Mr. Klausutis wrote: “The frequency, intensity, ugliness and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet. These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform.”

Lori Klausutis died in July 2001 at the age of 28. At the time, she was working for Mr. Scarborough, then a Republican congressman in Florida. Local authorities said at the time there was no evidence of foul play, and the Okaloosa County associate medical examiner, Michael Berkland, said an undiagnosed heart condition had caused her to collapse and hit her head on the side of a desk in Mr. Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach congressional office.

The president has tweeted or retweeted about Ms. Klausutis’s death a half-dozen times this month to attack Mr. Scarborough, a persistent critic of the Trump administration who has excoriated Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on his program, “Morning Joe.”

After first tweeting about the case in 2017—incorrectly referring to it as an “unsolved mystery”—Mr. Trump returned to the issue on May 4, urging MSNBC owner Comcast Corp. to “open up a long overdue Florida Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough.” His tweet came during a “Morning Joe” episode that featured criticism of the president’s response to the virus.

On May 12, Mr. Trump tweeted of Mr. Scarborough: “Did he get away with murder? Some people think so.”

Mr. Trump, asked about his tweets about Mr. Scarborough later Tuesday at the White House, defended his calls for an investigation, calling the matter “certainly a very suspicious situation.” Mr. Trump said he had seen Mr. Klausutis’s letter but dismissed its request. “I’m sure that ultimately they want to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Lawmakers in both parties have criticized the president’s tweets about the matter, calling for him to focus on the pandemic and not promote false accusations against his critics. “Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us,” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) on Saturday.

Mr. Scarborough on Tuesday tweeted several excerpts from Mr. Klausutis’s letter. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Twitter’s fact check of Mr. Trump’s tweet appeared to contain its own misleading statement, however, stating that “mail-in ballots are already used in some states, including Oregon, Utah and Nebraska.” That statement appears to conflate automatic all-mail voting with absentee ballots in regards to at least one state.

While all states allow absentee voting via the mail, only a handful of states including Oregon and Utah automatically send registered voters mail-in ballots. Nebraska, in contrast, recently mailed applications to every voter—in response to the pandemic, and the state didn’t automatically send ballots.

The mistake raised questions about Twitter’s ability to serve as an independent service to fact check statements by Mr. Trump or other political figures on its service. Late Tuesday, Twitter updated its language to remove reference to Nebraska and instead stated that “five states already vote entirely by mail and all states offer some form of mail-in absentee voting.”

Updated: 5-29-2020

In Trump Versus Twitter, Decentralized Tech May Win

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday, seeking to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 prevents social media companies from civil liability for the content posted on them. The order targets Twitter and Facebook after Twitter fact-checked two of the President’s tweets.

The text emphasizes Trump’s “commitment to free and open debate on the internet.” Trump said that “we are here today to defend free speech against one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history” before going on to identify that threat as a “small handful of social media monopolies.”

Lawyers who reviewed the order say it’s unlikely to accomplish Trump’s goals. Trump was misunderstanding the law, they said, and had little chance of achieving genuine reform of Section 230 without Congressional help.

Campaigners for a repeal of Section 230 said Trump’s intervention might derail their cause. But it also might offer an opening for decentralized technology, allowing innovation to substitute for government action on issues around misinformation, censorship and the power of social media (see below).

Misunderstanding 230

“Trump neither understands nor cares about the law, whether it’s the First Amendment or Section 230,” said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at Miami Law School, author of “The Cult of the Constitution” and who has written about Section 230 extensively. “All he cares about is power, and he knows that the only way to disguise this is to pretend he is being persecuted.”

Robert Corn-Revere, partner at Davis Wright and Tremaine LLP, who focuses on first amendment issues, said the executive order is not well informed about how Section 230 works – or even what it says – much less how it has been interpreted by courts over the past two decades.

“It is a novel concept, to say the least, to suggest that the President, by executive order, can amend or modify an act of Congress, override hundreds of judicial rulings and instruct independent federal agencies to take actions that exceed their jurisdictional mandates,” said Corn-Revere in an email.

“And these problems arise even before getting to the obvious First Amendment issues raised by seeking to punish or regulate social media platforms for their editorial decisions.”

Twitter responded to the order, saying the executive order was a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law. “#Section230 protects American innovation and freedom of expression, and it’s underpinned by democratic values. Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms,” it said.

Friday morning, the company flagged another of Trump’s tweets for “glorifying violence” after he suggested protesters in Minneapolis, Minn., could be shot.

One casualty of this tantrum is any serious consideration of longstanding and legitimate critiques of Section 230

Public debate around 230 centers around whether these platforms are publishers. To some, a decision to add a fact-check counts as editorializing, making such a platform a publisher. But this is a misreading of the powerful and unilateral immunity Section 230 offers, says Preston Byrne, a prominent crypto law partner.

In a blog he said Section 230 does two things only: 1) ensures platforms and users are not liable for content and 2) that, if you complain about a platform moderating your content, don’t expect much legal recourse.

Good Faith

Trump’s order goes after the “good faith” requirement for removing “objectionable content” which could encompass whatever the platform chooses to amend.

There’s no “good faith” requirement the platform (termed interactive computer service in the section) or user of that platform be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another user. If someone says something defamatory about you, you can’t sue me or Twitter over it, you sue the person that said it.

“You can’t treat an online intermediary like a publisher,” said Franks, even if it acts like a publisher.

She’s critical of latitude to exercise “good faith” in taking down any content the intermediary finds “objectionable” and makes pretty much any parsing of “good faith” a moot point. It’s all up to the company. In any event, Twitter didn’t take down any content in relation to Trump, she said, they merely added to it.

Section 230 has allowed platforms to flourish, and those same platforms to share disinformation, profit from the eyeballs that come with each cycle of outrage and deeply affect public discourse.

The order calls on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to re-evaluate the “good faith” requirement. In a statement Thursday Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (one of two Democrats on the committee) said turning the FCC into the President’s “free speech police” was not the answer.

The process of putting the order together was hastily conducted, and included adapting an old order that had been floating around the White House for years, according to Protocol.

“One casualty of this tantrum is any serious consideration of longstanding and legitimate critiques of Section 230,” said Franks. “It’s an intentional hijacking of the principled calls for reform.”

However, Gigi Sohn, a former counselor at the FCC, said Section 230 is not “inviolable,” meaning Congress could choose to address criticisms of the law. Amending this rule could improve online accountability, she argues, but also put upstart networks at a disadvantage. If moderation is now required, Twitter and Facebook are more likely to have the resources to do it properly.

“The little guys are already behind, and they will be even further behind if you keep carving out protections granted by Section 230,” Sohn said. “This points out the incredible power of a handful of companies. The power to determine what people see, what people think and what people believe. That should not be.”


Whatever the fate of Section 230, technology offers a potential way forward without the need for new laws.

Sohn supports major internet platforms “opening” their services to competitors and making themselves interoperable.

Denouncing ongoing efforts to break up big tech platforms, which are toothless due to decades of antitrust law attrition, Sohn said. “I’d rather see something like making them interoperable.”

“That’s the way you quote-unquote break up Twitter and Facebook. You make them open up their APIs [application programming interface] and policies to competitors to make use of,” she said. “I’d like to see it become mandatory.”

Forcing companies to decentralize or move to open standards would spur the creation of new businesses. “The way you handle the power of a company like Twitter is by making sure it can be competed against,” she said.

A mandate to decentralize has some historic precedence, too. It’s akin to what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did for telephone companies, Sohn said, referring to a bill that required communications operators to open their networks for competitive use.

“Unbundling” online networks, and distributing the influence that one microblogging platform holds over the public conversation, would likely “get them out of this constant criticism,” she said.

If platforms want to make the error of enforcing their political biases on their users, let the free market provide competitors

Twitter is working on a decentralized standard called Blue Sky, though not much has been revealed about the project since announced in late 2019. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Other networks, sometimes appended to a blockchain, already exist and are thriving. “[W]ith the recent politicization of [F]acebook, [G]oogle, and other bigtech social media giants, the web3 thesis for crypto has never been as underrated as it is now,” Su Zhu, CEO of hedge fund and cryptocurrency investor Three Arrows Capital, tweeted.

LBRY, for one, cites the wanton power to censor and deplatform that centralized platforms like Twitter wield as one of its motivations for existing. LBRY’s neutral protocol enables anyone to post content without reprisal, and stores this information on an immutable blockchain. The company’s CEO, Jeremy Kauffman, said LBRY has seen three million active users in May, nearly doubling the count from preceding months. It also receives a number of new users anytime a crypto personality is banished from a big tech platform.

“The President is right to be concerned about the neutrality of companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,” Kauffman said. But he doesn’t agree with making the government – as Trump just attempted – “the arbiter of truth.”

“If platforms want to make the error of enforcing their political biases on their users, let the free market provide competitors like LBRY that make this problem obsolete. Innovations like LBRY make it so that the interference of Twitter and YouTube is technologically impossible,” he said.

To be sure, there are issues with decentralization. Crypto Beadles, a prominent crypto YouTuber, tried the platform and found it wanting.

“There are currently no fully decentralized social media platforms I know of that work even remotely as well as the first version of YouTube,” he said. He painted the picture of a platform with the network effects of Twitter, guided by the principles of LBRY.

For his part, Kauffman said if Twitter were to decentralize, “the biggest effect this would have on LBRY is the potential to slow our growth…if it forces these companies to behave more responsibly. But they misbehave in so many other ways, I doubt this will happen.”

Updated: 5-29-2020

Twitter Flags Trump Tweet About George Floyd Protests For ‘Glorifying Violence’

President’s post can now be seen only after users click box with notice saying it violated Twitter’s rules.

The president called the demonstrators thugs and warned: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

That phrase has a fraught history dating back to 1967, when Miami Police Chief Walter Headley used it at a news conference to explain how the threat of police violence had prevented riots and looting in the city. Mr. Headley’s comments and his “get-tough” approach to crime sparked outrage in Miami’s black community, and riots broke out in the city in the summer of 1968.

Mr. Trump’s post can now only be seen after users click a box with a notice saying it violated Twitter’s rules against encouraging violence, but it otherwise remains visible.

The official White House Twitter account repeated Mr. Trump’s comments in a Friday tweet, and Twitter appended the same notice to that tweet. The same comments appeared on Mr. Trump’s Facebook account without a cautionary notice.

“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter said on its official communications account.

The company said users’ ability to interact with the tweet will be limited, and that users can retweet it with comment, but not like, reply to, or retweet it.

Mr. Trump said Friday he wasn’t encouraging police to shoot protesters. Referring to his looting and shooting comments, the president wrote on Twitter: “I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means.”

He added in a second tweet, “It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media.”

In the earlier tweets, which were posted to his account at 12:53 a.m., Mr. Trump criticized Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, alleging a “total lack of leadership” in response to the protests. Mr. Trump also suggested that the federal government could take a more central role in responding to the protests, warning of the potential for intensifying violence.

“…These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Mr. Trump’s tweet said.

Mr. Trump said he would send the National Guard to Minnesota. Gov. Walz activated the National Guard on Thursday.

Mr. Frey responded to Mr. Trump’s tweets during a news conference Friday. “Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell,” he said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, criticized Mr. Trump’s tweets in a televised address.

“This is no time for incendiary tweets. It’s no time to encourage violence,” he said. “This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now.”

The move by Twitter escalates a dispute with the president that could change the legal environment in which the industry operates. Mr. Trump on Thursday signed an executive order seeking to limit the broad protection that federal law currently provides to social-media and other internet platforms, a move expected to draw immediate court challenges.

The president signed the executive order after Twitter on Tuesday moved for the first time to apply a fact-checking notice to tweets by the president on the subject of voter fraud.

The executive order seeks to make it easier for federal regulators to hold companies like Twitter and Facebook Inc. liable for unfairly curbing speech by suspending users’ accounts or deleting their posts, for example.

Speaking just before signing the order Thursday, Mr. Trump described Twitter’s fact-check of his tweets as “political activism.”

“Imagine if your phone company silenced or edited your conversations. Social-media companies have vastly more power and more reach than any phone company in the United States,” he said.

Online-speech and digital-privacy experts said Twitter must now apply its policy consistently across the platform, including to all Mr. Trump’s tweets in the months of campaigning ahead.

“It’s perhaps the bravest, riskiest thing any tech giant has ever done,” said Carl Miller, who directs social-media research at Demos, a London-based think tank. “They can’t back down now.”

Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital-rights group, said that while Twitter was within its rights to flag the president, the platform is too large to moderate content effectively.

“The whole idea of doing content moderation at scale just has so many problems,” she said. “It just doesn’t work very well.”

Twitter’s rules against glorification of violence prohibit comments that could inspire others to commit similar acts, or that praise or condone violence where ethnic or racial groups are targeted.

The company also has public-interest exceptions under which it may preserve posts that violate its policies when they come from government officials and could contribute to discussion about matters of concern.

“As a result, in rare instances, we may choose to leave up a Tweet from an elected or government official that would otherwise be taken down,” Twitter’s policy on public-interest exceptions says.

Though this week marked the first time that Twitter put notifications on Mr. Trump’s tweets, the company in March applied the label “manipulated media” to the bottom of a video circulated by Dan Scavino, a senior adviser to the president.

Updated: 5-30-2020

Ethereum creator, Vitalik Buterin, and Gemini exchange founders, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, expressed their opinions on recent efforts at social media censorship.

“I’ve talked before about the rise of corporations regulating governments but here we have Twitter soft-censoring the U.S. president on the grounds of incitement of violence,” Buterin said in a May 29 tweet referencing recent Twitter posts from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“This is a major escalation and could be a new chapter in relations between corporations and states,” Buterin added.

A Tangled Mess Of Tweets, Executive Orders, And Events

Expectations yesterday saw Trump signing an executive order relating to media censorship. Trump followed through on signing the order, Bloomberg detailed on May 29.

Seven minutes before midnight on May 28, Trump tweeted on the protests in Minnesota over the death of George Floyd. Noting a need for better leadership in Minneapolis, Trump said he would send the United States National Guard to the city if necessary.

Immediately after, the president added the following tweet — which Twitter flagged, citing a breach of the platform’s rules:

“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

Buterin Said People Should Pay Attention

Trump’s posts, as well as Twitter’s responsive action, ignited Buterin’s previously noted comments on the scene. “This is significant and could have far-reaching consequences and you should pay attention,” Buterin said in a comment his original tweet, in response to a community member’s question.

Buterin clarified he does not endorse provoking violence. A better system might include “social media designs that naturally create selection pressures that favor positive content, and do so in a way that’s credibly neutral,” according to Buterin.

The Ethereum creator also noted that high-ranking government authority figures will have a large audience, regardless of the social media platform, simply due to their status.

Cameron Winklevoss Against Censorship Efforts

In relation to Twitter’s recent fact-checking escapade, Gemini exchange co-founder and early Bitcoiner Cameron Winklevoss tweeted a statement of opposition. “Imagine if a phone company fact-checked your calls or the post office fact checked your mail?” he said on May 29.

Cameron’s brother Tyler also spoke out against the action, playing on a common quote from George Orwell’s 1945 book, Animal Farm. “All tweets are equal, but some tweets are more equal than others,” Tyler tweeted.

Twin brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss made a name for their crypto exchange and its efforts working with regulators. In a recent podcast episode, the pair expressed the need for rules, but also included points on over-regulation.

Updated: 5-31-2020

Inside Twitter’s Decision To Take Action On Trump’s Tweets

A weeks-old policy about virus misinformation laid the groundwork for the social platform’s steps this past week to push back on the president’s posts.

When Twitter Inc. TWTR -1.99% earlier this month announced a new fact-checking tool, it was billed largely as a measure to combat false information about coronavirus. Two weeks later, the company deployed that tool in one of the biggest actions in its history: squaring off with President Trump.

Since Tuesday, the platform has taken several actions on messages from Mr. Trump as well as a post from the official White House account, marking some as breaking the company’s rules and adding a fact-check label to two about mail-in ballots. In response, Mr. Trump issued an executive order taking aim at what he said was censorship by social-media companies, and threatened to dismantle Twitter’s business if it didn’t stop tagging his posts.

The moves marked a sharp reversal for Twitter, which for years has faced criticism from users for what they see as inaction and inconsistency in policing its own platform, and turmoil among its employees over how it has managed its most prominent user. Some of Twitter’s 4,000 employees have accused the company and Chief Executive Jack Dorsey of ignoring harmful behavior from the accounts of powerful figures, while others have said moderating those accounts would be akin to censorship.

Those tensions ratcheted up in recent weeks, say people familiar with the company’s operations, as the pandemic circled the globe and some of Mr. Trump’s frequent tweets to his 80 million followers tested Twitter’s rules.

“The internal decision-making wasn’t quite a domino effect, but it started slowly trickling,” an employee familiar with Twitter’s decisions said.

For years, employees across the company have met privately on an unofficial basis to discuss how the company could apply its rules to Mr. Trump’s postings, according to people familiar with the meetings. This past week’s decisions were unexpected, one of the people said.

Some Twitter staffers believed the company should enforce existing policies for reducing what it has categorized as hate speech and harmful content, even if involving Mr. Trump, who uses the service to comment on news and pop culture as well as make policy pronouncements.

Like Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey has met privately with Mr. Trump and made efforts to cultivate relationships with prominent conservatives, but has also acknowledged that much of his workforce has left-leaning political views. In 2018, Mr. Dorsey said he didn’t feel Twitter’s conservative employees felt safe to express their opinions within the company.

The company’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, was cited by many conservatives this past week as an example of left-leaning bias at Twitter. In past tweets Mr. Roth has called Mr. Trump a “racist tangerine” and compared White House adviser Kellyanne Conway to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda. Mr. Roth was widely harassed and threatened online this past week after Ms. Conway called him out in a television interview.

In a tweet this past week, Mr. Dorsey said he accepted responsibility for the company’s decisions. “Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me,” he wrote, asking others not to attack Twitter employees in the wake of the moves against Mr. Trump.

Mr. Dorsey is an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement but has long maintained that Twitter as a company is neither liberal or conservative. He has repeatedly told employees that people should be aware of the unfiltered views of public figures, current and former executives have said. That view angered large numbers of employees beginning in the campaign season of 2016, feelings that escalated after Mr. Trump won the White House and used Twitter to call adversaries names, mock their appearances and spread false information.

“You have to have rules you can enforce consistently, and that’s what they’ve always been lacking,” said one former employee who spoke with Mr. Dorsey directly about the matter.

Twitter has long said that maintaining a healthy public discourse on its platform is its priority. “Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them,” the company has said previously in a statement. “This can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures.”

For the past few years, Twitter employees said, their company appeared to be taking a relatively hands-off approach to moderating content. By contrast, Facebook had hired tens of thousands of content moderators and pledged to improve online conversation.

A role reversal of sorts began last year, when Twitter said it would ban political ads entirely, and Facebook made the decision to continue accepting them—and not to fact-check them. Mr. Zuckerberg talked more regularly about his commitment to free expression rather than stamping out toxic content.

More recent actions suggested Twitter was taking a different tack toward world leaders. In March, the platform deleted posts by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro related to unproven methods of curing the new coronavirus.

And in April Twitter had added a fact-check label to a message posted by a Brazilian politician who claimed that quarantine increases the prevalence of Covid-19.

Still, many users and even some internally have felt the company’s enforcement of its rules has been inconsistent.

The fact-checking tool that Twitter unveiled in early May created a way for the company to flag the accounts of people in power without removing their content entirely. The company described the tool as a way to address conspiracy theories and other misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic, but internally, employees noted that it could be used more broadly, the employee familiar with the company’s decisions said.

“We had never had a policy at Twitter that said you can’t lie or spread a conspiracy theory,” the employee said. “That was the starting point for this.”

At first Twitter started marking links to content such as the conspiracy-laden Plandemic video as false. Then the company started thinking about how the policy could be applied to other critical topics, such as elections, the person said.

Twitter staff warned Mr. Trump’s team on May 20 that a tweet about voter fraud risked receiving a fact-check notice because it referred incorrectly to absentee ballots rather than absentee ballot applications. Mr. Trump deleted the tweet, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.

Then, on Tuesday, Twitter for the first time added fact-check labels to two tweets from Mr. Trump when he posted about the potential for fraud involving mail-in ballots.

Days later, on Friday, Twitter took an even bigger step when it added the label to Mr. Trump’s tweet that said the message promoted violence.

Mr. Trump had tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a line that some people took to refer to the former police chief of Miami when he cracked down on U.S. civil rights protests, as well as the former governor of Alabama, known for his opposition to the U.S. civil-rights movement.

Mr. Trump defended his message. “It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement,” he said in a subsequent tweet. “I didn’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means.”

Twitter has a year-old policy of flagging tweets by political figures who violate its rules, although this was the first time the company had applied such a flag to a tweet from Mr. Trump.

“This Tweet violated the Twitter rules about glorifying violence,” said the label affixed to Mr. Trump’s tweet. The label also said Twitter had determined it was in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain accessible, although the company restricted the way users could engage with the message.

Updated: 6-2-2020

Voting by Mail To Face Biggest Test Since Pandemic Started

The seven states holding primaries and Washington, D.C., encouraged residents to vote by mail, and they are expecting a surge of mailed ballots.

Voting by mail will face its biggest test since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when seven states and Washington, D.C., hold primaries Tuesday.

All eight locales have encouraged residents to vote by mail, even as President Trump has criticized mail voting in recent tweets. Some states delayed their primaries due to the pandemic, then scrambled to change procedures and put personnel in place to process an expected surge in mailed ballots.

Tuesday’s presidential primaries—in Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington, D.C.—offer little suspense since each political party already has a presumptive nominee. But state and local races are on ballots. And the voting will be an early test of how states might attempt to conduct elections if the virus remains a threat through the November general election.

Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah—conducted elections primarily by mail before the pandemic, with options for in-person voting and ballot drop-off sites as well.

I certainly think that mail-in ballots are here to stay, and we’ll be dealing with a higher number in November.
— Kenneth Lawrence

Last-minute court rulings and partisan fighting spread confusion leading up to Wisconsin’s primary in April, and there were delays for absentee ballots and hour-plus waits at a reduced number of polling places in Milwaukee.

States voting Tuesday have taken varied approaches. Indiana announced that it would temporarily allow any voter to request an absentee ballot without a specific reason. Maryland pledged to send all voters a ballot, skipping the application process. And states are grappling with how to safely open at least some in-person polling sites.

Many local officials said they saw a flood of ballot requests. A Pennsylvania law passed last year allows any registered voter to vote by mail, but the pandemic created a surge of requests that outstripped officials’ expectations. More than 1.8 million voters have applied for a mail ballot, more than 18 times the number in the 2016 primary election.

Jeff Greenburg, the election director in Mercer County, Pa., said Wisconsin’s experience underscored for him the logistical challenges of a sudden shift to voting by mail. To prepare, the county signed a contract with a third-party mailing vendor to help with mail-in ballots, and his staff of about five people has worked 12-hour days to process ballot requests, Mr. Greenburg said. “It’s been nothing short of insanity.”

Kenneth Lawrence, a Democrat who is chairman of the Montgomery County, Pa., Board of Elections, said in an interview last month that he worried some voters wouldn’t get their ballots in time. “We’ll see how many ballots come in after June 2 that can’t count,” he said.

Officials in states including Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Mexico also have said that results may be released more slowly, particularly for any close races, because it is expected to take longer to count a large number of mail-in ballots.

“My nightmare in November is that you’re waiting to get Montgomery County’s results, to get Pennsylvania’s results,” said Mr. Lawrence. “I certainly think that mail-in ballots are here to stay, and we’ll be dealing with a higher number in November.”

In Indiana, counties have hired additional staff or reassigned them to help with processing mail-in ballots and planned for more counting locations on Election Day, said Ian Hauer, a spokesman for Indiana’s secretary of state.

Congress recently passed legislation offering $400 million in federal grants to states to help with coronavirus-related election needs. Multiple states, including Indiana and Maryland, said they were spending at least part of that money on protective gear and hand sanitizer for in-person polling sites, educating voters about voting by mail, and reimbursing counties for expenses such as purchasing ballot drop-off boxes.

House Democrats are pushing for an additional $3.6 billion to expand mail-in voting and other changes ahead of November. Some Republicans are open to extending more funding, though they say it should be up to states to determine their election procedures.

In Georgia, which moved its primary twice and will vote June 9, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, mailed absentee ballot applications to all 6.9 million active registered voters.

More than 1.5 million Georgia voters have requested an absentee ballot. State officials estimate that as many as half of all voters will vote absentee, compared with 5% to 7% in a normal year.

Still, some early in-person voters have encountered long wait times, which officials in Georgia’s Cobb County and Fulton County attributed to social-distancing measures and shortages of volunteer poll workers due to the pandemic.

“If a significant number of people vote in person, there will be a line,” said Richard Barron, Fulton County’s director of registration and elections.

He urged residents to vote absentee. If they choose to go in person, he added: “Out of respect for poll workers and other people in line, I would encourage people to wear face masks.”

Updated: 6-4-2020

Decentralization And What Section 230 Really Means For Freedom Of Speech

With U.S. President Donald Trump clashing with social media behemoth Twitter, what does the fight over “Section 230” really mean and can decentralization offer a better solution?

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Thursday, seeking to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 prevents social media companies from civil liability for the content posted on them. The order targets Twitter and Facebook after Twitter fact-checked two of the President’s tweets.

Today, CoinDesk tackles the topic with Chief Content Officer Michael Casey, Privacy Reporter Benjamin Powers, New York Law School professor and past President of the American Civil Liberties Union Nadine Strossen, and author of the Open Index Protocol Amy James

On this podcast, the CoinDesk team brings listeners up to speed on the leadup to and aftermath of the executive order, discuss the fairness implications of editorializing on social media, the business models that enable and are empowered by all of this, and how decentralized protocols can chart an alternative path forward.

First we talk about the first amendment and Section 230 itself, what it does and doesn’t do as it pertains to social media platforms and moderation.

Then we talk about fairness and the if you don’t-like-it-leave argument, as well as related topics

We’ll talk about the business models and assumptions implicit in the current state of dominant social media platforms before turning to alternatives or possible solutions in decentralized protocols and multi-layered approaches to moderation or censorship.

Updated: 6-4-2020

Facebook, Twitter And Google Write Their Own Rules For Political Ads—and What You See


The 2020 race and the spread of Covid-19 are testing the boundaries for political ads. Here’s how big tech companies decide what can–and cannot–appear on their platforms.

Political campaigns and advocacy groups will funnel billions of dollars into digital advertising during the 2020 election season. With virtually no federal guidelines regulating these ads, the major online platforms are drawing up their own rules for what political advertisers can and cannot do.

Platforms’ decisions to moderate content have sparked widespread debate, as with Twitter Inc.’s decision in May to flag tweets posted by President Trump that violated its rules and Facebook Inc.’s decision to allow similar posts to appear without moderation.

Facebook, Alphabet Inc.-owned Google and Twitter updated their ad policies in 2019, setting rules for what counts as a political ad, who is allowed to buy them and what they can say. All three platforms use a combination of automated and human review to enforce their policies. The following uses real ads as examples to explain how the three platforms diverge.

Google and Facebook declined to comment on ads that didn’t run on their own platforms. Twitter confirmed our reporting about how the site would handle certain ads.

Note: Some images in this article may not appear to users with ad-blockers installed.

What About Unsubstantiated Claims?

Several Facebook groups bought ads spreading “Plandemic,” a documentary filled with unsubstantiated claims about the Covid-19 pandemic, including conspiracy allegations against the leader of the government’s pandemic response. Fact-checking groups PolitiFact and labeled these claims as false. All three platforms have removed the “Plandemic” video from posts.

Facebook has removed ads promoting the documentary purchased by groups such as the Published Reporter, Citizen Media, Last Resort Podcast and the Chattanooga Tea Party.

The Chattanooga Tea Party’s president said Facebook tries to have it both ways: it accepted the group’s advertising dollars but didn’t take down the video until after the campaign ran its course. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on that allegation. The Published Reporter confirmed it promoted the Plandemic video and found it “unfortunate” that Facebook is silencing its opinion.

The Last Resort Podcast promoted a commentary video discussing the Plandemic video, which was also removed temporarily from YouTube, and expressed similar sentiments about tech platforms’ ability to censor free speech. Citizen Media didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Dr. Judy Mikovits, who appears in “Plandemic,” defended the film as accurate. The film’s production company didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Trump campaign bought ads on Google-owned YouTube and on Facebook claiming that former Vice President Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion in U.S. aid to fire a prosecutor looking into a gas company with ties to his son. Fact-checking groups PolitiFact and labeled these claims as false. A Trump campaign spokesman defended the ad’s claims.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign bought a Facebook ad claiming that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorsed President Trump’s re-election. The ad acknowledges that this claim is false.

Democratic super political-action committee Priorities USA bought ads on YouTube, Facebook and television that juxtaposed President Trump’s comments about the new coronavirus with a chart showing its rising case count. Fact-checking group PolitiFact wrote that the ad may lead viewers to believe that the timing of Mr. Trump’s comments matches the charted growth in U.S. cases, though many of the comments were made earlier. Priorities USA defended the ad as accurate.

Political-action committee The Really Online Lefty League bought a Facebook ad claiming that Sen. Lindsey Graham supported the Democrats’ Green New Deal legislation. Fact-checking group PolitiFact debunked the claim as false, reporting that Sen. Graham has opposed the Green New Deal. The Really Online Lefty League declined to comment.

What About An Ad Targeted To A List?

Conservative advocacy group CatholicVote compiled a list of voters who had attended Catholic churches using cellphone location data, then targeted them with ads calling former Missouri senator Claire McCaskill “anti-Catholic.”

CatholicVote defended the technique as more successful than other methods of targeting Catholics. The ad ran in support of Republican Josh Hawley, who won the race. His 2018 campaign manager, Kyle Plotkin, said the campaign was unaware of the targeting. Ms. McCaskill didn’t respond to requests for comment.

What About A Commercial Ad That Gets Political?

Clothing retailer Patagonia Inc. bought a Facebook ad that criticized President Trump’s rollback of the Endangered Species Act.

Airbnb Inc. bought Facebook ads that advocate for immigration.

Match Group Inc. bought a Twitter ad stating that former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg met his husband on the company’s dating app Hinge. Mr. Buttigieg was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time of the ad campaign.

S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. brand Windex bought “Help Seas Sparkle” ads on Facebook and Twitter that promoted the brand’s recyclable bottles.

Updated: 6-5-2020

Twitter Bans Trump’s Tribute Video To George Floyd Over Copyright

Twitter has banned Donald Trump’s tribute video to George Floyd, citing a copyright complaint.

The video – posted on his campaign account – included a host of photos and videos of marches and violence, with the president’s voice speaking over it.

But it has now been disabled, with Twitter saying it had received a copyright complaint. It did not indicate which part of the video had caused it to be banned.

Floyd’s death last week after a fatal encounter with a police officer has led to nationwide protests. In widely circulated video footage, a white officer was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd gasped for air and repeatedly groaned, “I can’t breathe,” before passing out.

Twitter said the video on the president’s campaign account was affected by its copyright policy.

“We respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives,” a Twitter representative said.

The three-minute 45-second video uploaded on Trump’s YouTube channel was tweeted by his campaign on June 3.

The clip, which is still on YouTube, had garnered more than 60,000 views and 13,000 likes. The video-streaming platform’s parent Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The social media platform has been under fierce scrutiny from the Trump administration since it fact-checked Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of mail-in voting fraud. It also labeled a Trump tweet about protests in Minneapolis as “glorifying violence.”

Trump has pledged to introduce legislation that may scrap or weaken a law that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.

Updated: 6-18-2020

DoJ Backs Trump’s Challenge To Section 230 And Social Media Platform Neutrality

The US’s top legal authority is looking to dismantle online protections for content publishers following Trump’s spat with Twitter weeks ago.

On June 17, the United States Department of Justice issued new recommendations to roll back decades-old protections for online platforms publishing third-party content.

Section 230 And Internet Censorship

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act became law in 1996, as the public was only just coming to welcome the internet into their day-to-day lives. The controversial law freed platforms from legal liability for content from third-parties.

The DoJ’s recommendations include ending immunity for content involving child abuse, terrorism and cyberstalking. It also argues that Section 230:

“Does not apply in a specific case where a platform had actual knowledge or notice that the third party content at issue violated federal criminal law.”

Moreover, the new suggestions would make online platforms liable in civil, not criminal court, for a broader category of illicit and harmful content. Civil court does not risk jail time, but allows monetary punishments that can stamp out businesses operating platforms.

Follow-Up To Trump’s Attack In May

Platforms that depend on Section 230 include Facebook and Twitter. At the end of May, President Trump sent out an executive order that many saw as a retaliation against Twitter in particular for what his office termed censorship by these platforms. The order says:

“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.”

Within days of that order, the Center for Democracy and Technology filed suit against Trump, calling the new order a violation of the First Amendment. A representative for the center explained the role of Section 230 in protecting online services to a degree that, for example, newspapers do not enjoy:

“Online services, even very small ones, deal with an unwieldy volume of user-generated content that they cannot possibly review before publishing. Section 230 is designed to give them the legal certainty they need to be able to moderate content that comes to their attention, without risking liability for all content on their platform.”

Bullish For Decentralized Platforms?

Contrary to popular belief, decentralized platforms also depend on Section 230’s protections. David Greene, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), explained to Cointelegraph:

“Everyone who’s intermediary benefits from Section 230, both in your ability to decide that you’re going to moderate because Section 30 protects moderation decisions as well as those who decide they’re not going to because Section 230 protects liability.

It’s based on when you don’t do anything to the contents at all. So I think it would be very short-sighted for anybody to think that this particular threat to Section 230 is really, truly only attacking the moderation side.”

In March, the EFF flagged a bill that likewise seemed to be a direct attack on Facebook for perceived bias.

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